Sunday, April 14, 2013

The New Lowell High School Celebrated Its 50th Anniversary Yesterday

The new Lowell High School celebrated its 50th anniversary yesterday. The new Lowell is the same as the old Lowell, except it moved to a new building on a 23 acre campus miles from the former block wide site on Hays and Masonic. Lowell High School was founded in 1856 in the early days of California and Anglo San Francisco. This is the fourth Lowell as the school followed the population outward from downtown into the avenues. The previous Lowell, the old red brick building on Masonic should not be confused with the smaller red brick building a few blocks away, the Catholic home for unwed mothers. Both red brick buildings exhausted their use around the same time. As students, we never knew of, much less appreciated, the struggles and political battles the principle, Jasper A. Perino, waged to get the new Lowell built. Lowell has periodically fought battles with the other high schools, who are jealous of its success. The ole brick building was past its usefullness. Indeed, the top floor was cordoned off because of seismic concerns after we moved out. I was privileged to spend a year and a half at both the old and new Lowells. The new Lowell is at 1101 Eucalyptus Drive, a distinguished address, but the building is an undistinguished, unmemorable 1962 edifice. An institution though does not achieve greatness because of its facilities, or even the furnishings or technology, inside. The first clue that this high school is different is the name on the auditorium, The Carol Channing Auditorium. Greatness is achieved by the people, the wise administrators, supporting staff, great teachers, and brilliant, hardworking students – all of which Lowell has in droves, clothed in a tradition of 150 years of academic excellence. Lowell is a special high school. It is the oldest public high School west of the Mississippi river, older than any of California’s great universities. It is consistently ranked among the nation's best high schools. Unlike most of the schools ahead of it on the lists, it is not a small academy or charter school, but rather a large high school with 2,600 students. It is a school of academic excellence with Berkeley historically being the safety school. Berkeley, MIT, Stanford and the Ivies are common for Lowell grads. Lowell remains the largest feeder school for the University of California. Admissions officers at the nation’s top colleges and universities know Lowell. Lowell grads include Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, Rick Levin, the outgoing President of Yale, William Hewlett of HP, Rube Goldberg, Marty Links, Daniel Handler (Lemony Snicket), Pierre Salinger, Alexander Calder, Dian Fossey, Naomi Wolf, Bill Bixby, three Nobel laureates, and a host of movers and shakers in the history of San Francisco and California. Several Lowell grads were the gold medalists at Berkeley, the top undergraduates at graduation. Lowell grads were in the inaugural class at Stanford, convincing Stanford to adopt Lowell’s colors, red and white, and its mascot, the Indian. Lowell and Stanford have since migrated to the cardinal. How special is Lowell? How many alumni of another public high school would return to honor a 50 year old building? Somewhere between 750-1,000 turned out yesterday for Lowell. In the face of draconian budget cuts for the San Francisco schools, Lowell alumni have provided over $1.75 million in support over the past 5 years to sustain academic programs. How many other public high schools have such a record of generous alumni support? Lowell became a magnet school, before magnet schools existed. It is a school of academic excellence that San Francisco parents seeking academic success for their children seek to send their children. About 65% of the student population is Asian American today with over 50% Chinese American. They are but the latest of generations of San Franciscans seeking the American Dream, the Irish and Italians, the Jews, the Chinese, and to a lesser extent Hispanics and African Americans. Lowell was under a consent decree for a number of years. It had to restrict the admissions of Asian American students in preference to African American and Hispanics. The decree was lifted. Much of Lowell remains the same, except for the unisex faculty bathroom (This is San Francisco, after all). This new Lowell could never be built today. It separates Lake Merced from an affluent, quiet residential neighborhood. Today's residents would sue to stop the development. California, being California, no longer allows junk food to be sold on campus. The school cafeteria was closed, but four food trucks, with both healthy and unhealthy food and beverages, were parked outside the Lowell entrance. San Francisco is deservedly ranked as one of the world's greatest cities. Lowell represents the best of San Francisco.

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